The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

February 20, 2011

BREAKING THE ICE

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay keeps Lake Erie inlets out of a jam

CONNEAUT — Gliding over the ice it was sent to destroy, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay was on a mission.

The crew of the Neah Bay (pronounced NEE-ah) patrolled the Grand River area in Conneaut on Saturday morning, busting chunks of ice as it went to make a path for commercial ships and stopping to clear out the chunks of ice that were blocking inlets along the coast, Coast Guard Lt. Jr. Grade Jonathan Tice said.

“As the ice on the water melts and breaks from big sheets into smaller chunks, it floats toward the inlets to the rivers,” he said. “When the ice forms at the mouth of a river, it creates an ice plug, which backs up the natural flow of the water and can create floods in the area.”

Tice was on the ice breaker the Morro Bay in Cleveland on Saturday, working on the same ice-breaking jobs. The Morro Bay is based out of New London, Conn.

Tice said the “cutters” slide over and bust up ice, thick or thin, every day if necessary.

“We go where the ice is,” he said. “How difficult is it? That depends on the thickness of the ice and the force of the wind. But it’s easier to go on top of the ice than to try to go through it. Brut force through it is just not as effective.”

Tice said the ice on Lake Erie was six to eight inches thick on Saturday, but that fact was melting fast.

“The warm weather this week melted the ice a little, but next week it could be cold again, so we’ll see how thick the ice ends up,” he said.

Tice said the Coast Guard’s six ice-cutting ships in the Morro Bay and Neah Bay class have serious jobs to do all winter long.

“Because of the ice, smaller boats in the Coast Guard search and rescue teams are taken out of the water and the ice breakers pick up that duty,” he said. “So our primary duty, I would say, is to go out and perform those rescue duties in place of the smaller boats that can’t navigate in the ice-choked water.”

Along with flood relief, the cutters also keep commercial lanes open for tankers and coal carriers, which still operate on Lake Erie in the winter. When another ship is stuck on the ice, it’s the cutters that come to the rescue to pull them out.

“Residents in the area may see our ice cutters out on Lake Erie throughout the winter and spring,” Tice said. “We will come and go until the ice melts and we aren’t needed any more.”

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